The Pro-Choice Action Network (formerly the B.C. Coalition for Abortion Clinics) was the political and activist wing of British Columbia’s pro-abortion movement. It is now defunct, but not before revelations, largely courtesy of Freedom of Information, documented an obsession between the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General’s Office and this political action group.
Supported by donations and individual members and donors, along with thousands of dollars of tax-payer money, it was responsible for the establishment of B.C.’s first free-standing abortion clinic, the Everywoman’s Health Centre.
It’s newsletter, the Pro-Choice Press, was published in Vancouver by editor Joyce Arthur. Arthur has worked extensively for the provincial government as a technical writer, even working for the Ministry of Attorney General!
Over the years, Pro-CAN (BCCAC) has been responsible for numerous demonstrations, both legal and illegal, in favor of abortion rights. The centre of much controversy, the group held a series of secret, clandestine meetings in the early 1990’s with members of the government, including workers within the BC Ministry of Attorney General, discussing ways of neutralizing the political opposition to abortion in B.C. It was perhaps the first time that members of the chief law enforcement agency in B.C. met with a purely political organization to discuss their political opposition – and how to deal with them.
A frightening prospect indeed.
At the very least it seriously tainted the legal neutrality that the Ministry of Attorney General is supposed to exhibit. The FOI files we have document some of those meetings, as well as show the work of Pro-CAN (BCCAC) in convincing the BC Attorney General to do even more to stop political opposition to abortion throughout the province. It should be noted that the then Attorney General was cleared of any wrongdoing regarding his filing of a false affidavit regarding notes taken during the first documented meeting- but even though the A-G tainted the office, he refused to step down. Subsequent meetings were held that included members of the staff of the Ministry of Attorney General, but memories, as documented in the Special Prosecutor Richard Peck’s report, seem to have “clouded” over as time went on. But the reality remains: Members of the staff of various departments in the Attorney General’s Ministry took a strange interest in those opposed to abortion. As Broadcaster Rafe Mair stated in the Georgia Straight (July 8-15, 1994): “Clearly the perception is that the attorney general’s office is no longer independent, but political as hell.”
Present at the first documented meeting (June 17, 1993) included: David Bellamy, counsel for Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic; BC Attorney General Colin Gabelmann; Brian Neal, Bill Scigliano, Michael McEvoy and Joan Young also of the AG’s Ministry; Marg Panton, Will Offley, Barbara Westwood and Caroline Murphy of the Everywoman’s Health Clinic; Bethan Everett, Nita Iyer and Gwen Brodsky of the Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic; and Joy Thompson and Katherine Ferguson of the B.C. Coalition for Abortion Clinics.
The second documented meeting took place on July 19, 1993. Attending this secret meeting were: Ernie Quantz (now a judge), Boris Tyzuk, Lance Bernard (Crown Counsel, Vancouver), Bill Scigliano, Joan Young, Marg Panton, Katherine Ferguson, Roseanne Mitchell and Bethan Everett. Accounts of this meeting differ, with some attendees suffering from “cloudy memory syndrome”.
Subsequent meetings? Ongoing secret meetings between the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics or Pro-Choice Action Network and members of the BC Attorney General’s Ministry? Who knows? With other government ministries? Sources told us that already in 1998, members of Pro-CAN had been meeting with the Ministry of Attorney General through the Abortion Services Working Group – a secret organization set up to stamp out opposition to abortion in British Columbia. The thought of so many in the office of the Chief law enforcement officer in B.C. meeting secretly with members of the pro-abortion political movement, discussing ways to stamp out their opposition is truly a 1984 scenario. Although a lot of the spotlight has focused on the Attorney General himself, perhaps it’s time that some serious investigation work was done looking at the opinions and activities of the employees who run the Attorney General’s ministry. Are they members of the New Democratic Party? Donated money towards Pro-CAN or the BCCAC? Are they closet supporters of abortion rights – realizing their goals through their work in the AG’s office? Regardless, the fascination that members of the A-G’s staff has with one side of a public policy issue is most disturbing.
In early 1994, members of the pro-life movement requested a meeting with the then Attorney General. Along with this letter were press accounts of two smoke bomb attacks made on a pro-life leader, as well as vandalism at a pro-life office. The Ministry of Attorney General felt it was unnecessary to meet to discuss violence directed at individuals who were politically opposed to him.
On November 18, 1994, the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General set up a “Criminal Harassment Unit” (CHU) to examine alleged acts of harassment against abortionists in British Columbia. In the final report delivered in March of 1995, one northern B.C. abortionist gave his definition of harassment as the fact that his local Catholic school would not allow his child to attend because of the career choice of his father – that of an abortionist! Initially and despite claims to the contrary made by the AG’s office, the CHU was to interview and take information from both pro-life and pro-abortion groups and individuals. Apparently, after police issued their reports regarding their findings, the CHU then became “accountable” to the BC Ministry of Attorney General. The chain of command had been broken largely due to the fact that the investigation was not producing the desired outcome. It is not clear who in the AG’s office made this decision. Pro-life groups were never interviewed, despite assurances they would be – nor was anyone who opposed abortion – although Planned Parenthood of B.C. was, as well as the 3 Vancouver abortion clinics and the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics. (we bet they had nice things to say about us!) Which leads one to wonder how credible the report actually is. All in all, it was a report produced by the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics – filled with anecdotal stories and complaints that could not be verified. The government initially balked at making the final report public – and finally, after a Freedom of Information mediation, released parts of the report. All in all, the methodology of the investigation was flawed, due chiefly to the meddling of the pro-abortion Ministry of Attorney General’s office. Won’t they ever learn?
In June of 1995, the BC Ministry of Health sponsored a “Safety, Security and Support” symposium for abortion industry workers throughout British Columbia. The BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics was hired at a cost of $16,500 to provide security. Imagine, a political group that does not even legally exist, whom have advocated and carried out illegal demonstrations, hired by the provincial NDP government to work for them! The BCCAC was to report back to another secret organization within the government, the Abortion Services Working Group – an ad hoc group set up to try to do something about the “shrinking” pool of abortionists in British Columbia.
Further reason to be concerned was also evident in early in 1998. In the Spring 1998 issue of the Pro-Choice Press, the British Columbia Pro-Choice Action Network thanks and gives a militant pro-abortion group a pat on the back for a press release issued that calls for “Armed Self Defense of abortion clinics“. The group, Radical Women – part of the Freedom Socialist Party, is based out of San Francisco but has a small but vocal membership in the Vancouver area. The newsletter of Radical Women is “Freedom Socialist”. The group states: “We support revolution on all fronts and seek to transform it into world socialism, which alone can defeat capitalism.” Imagine – just what we need – Vancouver area abortion clinic workers coming to work and then pointing their guns at little old ladies praying outside abortion clinics – I guess that’s part of their support of “revolution”.
Adding to our concern is a March 1999 interview that Joyce Arthur gave to the “Class Antagonist” entitled “Pro-Choice and Pissed Off”. Joyce brags that they now have “a small amount of government funding” (25-thousand in 1998), to assist abortionists in protecting them from “anti-choice harassment”. Since the fact opposition to abortion is considered “harassment”, we tremble at the significance that the Provincial NDP government is funding a special interest group that does not even legally exist…and who have ties with vigilantes!
By 2001, Pro-CAN still enjoyed having the ear of government, spending most of their time compiling information on the alleged activities of their political enemies, and making sure that government were aware and doing something about it. And every time the government acts, whether it’s the Attorney General calling pro-lifers “anti-choice” (1998), the same A-G and even the Health Minister blaming tragic violent acts on pro-lifers, or secretly meeting with the folks at Pro-CAN, it proves again that the law enforcement arm of government can and is being used for political purposes – making us wonder if it’s the fine folks at the Pro-Choice Action Network (or the gun-toting revolutionaries over at Radical Women) that are indeed running the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General.